No. 5 Lincoln-Way East has been one of the state’s most dominant football teams since the program began in 2001. It’s still high school football though, so despite getting a late start due to some rain earlier in the afternoon, the Griffins were rushed off the field for the school band to practice on Wednesday,
Coach Rob Zvonar took advantage of each minute he had, barking orders and ramping up the intensity for his new, untested players.
Year after year, Zvonar has replaced seniors with seniors and been a nearly unbeatable force. But this year is different. Zvonar is replacing seniors with juniors and sophomores for the most part. Lincoln-Way East will have 13 non-senior starters.
“I don’t think we are rebuilding or starting over by any means,” Zvonar said. “But there is a little challenge coming back from a COVID year. Just getting kids and all of us in the right mindset. It’s been a lot of fun watching this group develop.”
The Griffins will potentially start four sophomores: offensive lineman Josh Janowski, linebacker Conner Durkin, defensive lineman David Wuske and receiver Cade Serauskis.
Lincoln-Way East is 46-1 since 2016 and its 20-game winning streak is the state’s longest (Williamsville and Richmond-Burton also have 20 consecutive wins).
The Griffins have experience back on the offensive line to lean on while all the new faces get acclimated. Senior Alex Knaperek is a three-year starter on the line and juniors Brad Abbot and Will Heitner are returning starters. They’ll be blocking for a new running back combination.
“We have a really nice two-headed monster at running back,” Zvonar said. “Juniors James Kwiecinski and Petey Olaleye are going to split that spot. They are different runners, kind of like the old school thunder and lightning. Petey is the big power back and James is a little smaller and shiftier.”
Senior Brennan Stolarek won the quarterback job and has a pair of talented, experienced receivers in seniors Trey Johnson and Jack Tremblay.
“Brennan is a tremendous young man,” Zvonar said. “We’re really fortunate to have him. There will be a lot of juniors and sophomores playing but the seniors will be our leaders.”
Cornerback Jon Guch and lineman Michael Cardilli are returning starters on defense, along with junior linebacker Jake Scianna.
“Scianna is going to be a great player for us,” Zvonar said. “Both of his older brothers were great players and his dad was one of the top players in the country in 1989.”
Is No. 5 too high for such an unproven team? Others will likely rank the Grifffins even higher, just based on what they have accomplished over the last two decades.
“I would much rather have the stress and pressure of high expectations instead of the other way around,” Zvonar said. “We don’t think we have to take a dip this year, but the makeup of our team is a little different.”
LINCOLN-WAY EAST SCHEDULE
Aug. 27 vs. Crete-Monee
Sep. 3 at Naperville Central
Sep. 10 vs. Stagg
Sep. 17 at Andrew
Sep. 24 at Bolingbrook
Oct. 1 vs. Sandburg
Oct. 8 vs. Homewood-Flossmoor
Oct. 15 at Lockport
Oct. 22 vs. Bradley-Bourbonnais